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Can you speed up green card process?

How Long Does it Take to Get a Green Card?

At a Glance: The average processing time for a marriage-based green card is 10-13 months. A family-based Green Card can take 7-33 months depending on the office and type of visa you are applying for.

Are you currently applying for a Green Card? And are you perhaps wondering – How long does it take to get a Green Card? What do you need to keep in mind? And are you guaranteed one?

You’ve come to the right place. Let us help you get the answer to how long does it take to get a Green Card and help you understand what is taking so long.

Table of Contents

The 4 Types of Green Card

There are four types of green cards that grant you a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status, each with its own process and timetable:

  • Family-Based Green Card
  • Marriage-Based Green Card
  • Employment-Based Green Card
  • Returning Resident Immigrant Visa

Family-Based Green Card

This Green Card requires you to be an immediate family member of a U.S. citizen. The U.S. citizen may petition on your behalf for an immigrant visa. Unmarried children under the age of 21 and the parents of a U.S. citizen are also able to get a family-based Green Card.

Marriage-Based Green Card

Spouses of U.S. citizens are eligible for a Green Card under this category. The U.S. spouse can petition on behalf of the foreign spouse for an immigrant visa and eventually a Green Card.

The fiancé of a U.S. citizen can also get a special K-1 visa that allows them to get married on American soil. They may petition for a marriage-based Green Card as soon as they get married.

Employment-Based Green Card

Millions of people live and work in the U.S. on employment-based visas. Many of them then work their way towards an employment-based Green Card. This category is full of applicants and the competition is quite strong.

Keep your eyes on the news to understand the implications of the decisions the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) makes regarding visas and Green Cards. You may need to adapt your visa strategy to comply with the rules set out by the U.S. government.

Returning Resident Immigrant Visa

Some people have received their LPR status in previous years. They sometimes travel the world to live and work abroad. Because of this, many of them lose their permanent residence status when they spend too much time outside of America. They don’t renew their Green Cards and end up losing their LPR status.

There is a special category for this type of situation. These people can apply for a returning resident immigrant visa that allows them to work their way towards a Green Card again. We’ll discuss the details of this process in more detail below.

U.S. Green Card Processing Times

Below are explanations of the green card processing times for each of the four types of green cards discussed above.

Family-Based Immigrant Visas Processing Time (7-33 Months)

Depending on the office where you apply for your Green Card, it can take anything from 7 months to 33 months if you are fortunate. Some USCIS offices are busier than others and some consulates or embassies abroad may take longer to help you. Then you also need to keep the cap and the demand for the type of visa you are filing for in mind. It can take up to 10 years before you get your family-based Green Card.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Green Card Through Marriage? (10-13 Months)

The average wait for a marriage-based green card is 10-13 months. Since there is no cap on the amount of marriage-based Green Cards allowed per year. You can almost be certain of a marriage-based visa number available to you. The only thing that may stand in your way is your application and eligibility. You still need to convince the USCIS to grant you the status. A marriage-based Green Card is also called an IR-1 visa. It’s a conditional Green Card that expires after 2 years. Thereafter you can apply for permanent residency.

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Employment-Based Green Card Processing Time (1-6 Years)

You can possibly get your Green Card within a year. But it could easily just as well take between 4 and 6 years if you apply in a popular category that receives many applications. There are many different types of employment-based visas. Each has a different yearly cap for Green Cards (some even don’t qualify for LPR status). As mentioned before, this is a very popular category and there are usually more applications than actual visas and Green Cards granted.

Returning Resident Immigrant Visa Processing Time (No Processing Time)

A returning resident visa is available to people who had LPR status but lost it due to spending too much time outside of the country. During this time their LPR status expired and they can, therefore, not return.

To qualify for the Returning Resident Immigrant visa, you need to prove the reason why you couldn’t return to the U.S. was beyond your control. You also need to prove you made attempts to return at that time.

You can complete the application and interview process abroad at a U.S. embassy or consular office. There is no processing time involved. The consular officer presiding over your case will inform you if you got your visa. The waiting period depends on how fast you and the U.S. authorities can complete the required application procedures.

How to Speed Up the Green Card Process

Who likes to wait? Hardly anybody! That is why we’ve got some tips on how to get your Green Card faster.

Understand the Usual Timeline for Your Green Card or Visa

You need to know the average waiting period for your Green Card. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll know when things are taking too long. You can then go to the applicable departments and ask for your case status. You can even check case processing times to track the progress of your application.

Ask for Expedited Processing

You can, under the correct circumstances, ask for expedited processing of your application. You need proof of the emergency that requires the expedited process and the correct paperwork to request this. For instance, an expedited process may be possible for someone who needs a family-based visa before they can come to the U.S. for a much-needed organ transplant.

Carefully Preparing Your Green Card or Visa Application

This is one of the best pieces of advice you need to hear. Everything within your control must be correct and on time. Every form you complete must contain the required information without any errors. The USCIS will ask you to either submit additional information or, even worse, reject your application altogether if the information isn’t correct. This will add weeks and even up to months to your processing time.

Green Card Backlog by Country

There are currently more than 960,000 immigrants stuck on the green card backlog. Below is the most recent record of how many applicants there are for employment-based green cards.

EB-1 (Priority)1EB-2 (Professional)EB-3 (Professional and Skilled)EB-3 (Other)
El Salvador
EB-4 (Special Immigrants)EB-5 (Investors)Total Principal ApplicantsTotal Individuals in Backlog (including dependents)
El Salvador12,09612,09615,725

Read More

  • Can I Stay More Than 6 Months Outside the U.S. with a Green Card?
  • Green Card Process Steps: EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3 Visa
  • SSN Update After Green Card
  • How Long Does it Take for USCIS to Make a Decision After an Interview?
  • Can You Be Deported if You are Married to an American Citizen?
  • Which Countries Can You Visit With a Green Card?
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6 ways to speed up your immigration case

USCIS (the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) is notorious for its slow processing times for green card applications and family and employment-related visas, causing some applicants to wait months or even years for a final decision. Many factors play into how long your immigration case will be processed, such as an annual quota cap, your country of origin, and even your last name. If the application requires a background check, common last names such as Kim, Patel, Lee, Nguyen, or Hernandez, for example, are sometimes subjected to longer processing times.

Due to COVID-19, the already overburdened USCIS immigration system has seen standard processing times extend even further. According to USCIS, 2.5 million cases were backlogged at the end of 2019. By the end of 2021, the backlogged cases have grown to more than 8 million due to staffing issues, changes in forms and policies, pandemic-related officer closures, and the inability to process many applications electronically.

USCIS understands that in some cases, situations may change for applicants that make it difficult to wait for the standard processing time. If this applies to you, here are six options you can pursue to request a faster application decision.

1. Submit an expedited request

One of the first things you can do to speed up your immigration case is to ask the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for an expedited request. However, you must be able to prove you have a compelling reason to make such a request. According to USCIS, to be eligible to file for an expedited request, you must have supporting documentation that proves:

  • Severe financial loss to a company or person – Provided that the need for urgent action is not the result of the petitioner’s or applicant’s failure to:
    • Timely file the benefit request, or
    • Timely respond to any requests for additional evidence;

    USCIS reviews expedited requests on a case-by-case basis and has sole discretion to grant or deny a request. Approved requests are rare, and you can only file a request after receiving a receipt notice from a standard processing time filing.

    Common reasons that expedited requests are denied include:

    • Your case is eligible for premium processing, for example, if you’re applying for an H-1B visa.
    • Your application or request was filed outside of the standard processing window.
    • A request that shows you filed an Employment Authorization Document EAD as a student or with any other visa type and wish to use it for status or other benefits.
    • Failure to provide any compelling evidence or documentation to support your request.

    To make an expedited request, call the USCIS contact center. After the automated option to hear your case status, select the option to expedite your request. Next, request a Tier I or Tier II officer when speaking to an agent. When connected, explain your situation and the reason for your expedited request. The officer will collect your contact information and provide you with an expedited service request number which will allow you to track your case. Within 1-2 weeks, you should receive an email from USCIS asking for documentation and evidence of your situation. A decision email should be sent within a week after submitting your evidence.

    2. Premium Processing

    Premium processing only applies for certain employment-based visas and is not available for a family-based visa. Premium processing provides expedited processing for Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, and Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker.

    Premium processing guarantees processing within 15 calendar days, or the premium processing fee will be refunded. The current fee for this service is between $1440-$2500 for Form I-907 or $1440-$1500 for Form I-129 . USCIS will not approve premium processing without a compelling reason, such as a family emergency, military deployment, or a medical procedure.

    The 15 day premium processing period begins after USCIS receives Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing. During that time, they will issue their decision. If you receive a request for additional evidence or a notice of intent to deny, a new 15 calendar day period will begin after your response.

    3. Members of Congress

    Members of Congress can contact federal agencies on behalf of their constituents. Although they won’t be able to reverse or change any decisions, they can help put a spotlight on a specific issue, which may highlight any delays or red tape. When contacting your representative , you will be asked to explain your situation and provide the same supporting documents that you would send to USCIS to expedite your case.

    Congressional Liaison Specialists from USCIS work directly with Congress on your expedited request. However, even if someone from Congress takes up your expedited request, it is still up to USCIS’s description to approve your request.

    4. Ombudsman

    Created under the Homeland Security Act, The Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman ( CIS Ombudsman ) can offer assistance in expediting your case and help in situations where you cannot get support from USCIS. USCIS ombudsman case assistance is provided at no charge.

    According to USCIS , CIS Ombudsman “is dedicated to improving the quality of citizenship and immigration services delivered to the public by providing individual case assistance, identifying systemic issues, and making recommendations to improve the administration of immigration benefits by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).”

    The CIS Ombudsman’s Office cannot intervene with USCIS on your behalf if your case is still within processing times or if the USCIS has denied your expedite request. In addition, they do not have the authority to adjudicate a case or alter a USCIS decision unless the decision is based on a USCIS error or misapplication of the law.

    5. Process reshuffling

    In 2020, USCIS began transferring I-130 petitions and I-485 green card applications to service centers with shorter wait times to streamline its processes. As a result, your immigration case might be handled more quickly without any effort on your part. The impact of the reshuffle will depend on where you initially filed your papers and the processing times at the service center where your case will now be handled.

    Cases affected by the reshuffling include:

    • I-130 petitions filed by U.S. citizens on behalf of immediate family members at the Nebraska Service Center;
    • I-130 petitions filed by green cardholders on behalf of their spouse or children with the California Service Center; or
    • I-485 green card applications filed with the Vermont Service Center.

    It’s important to note that if your case has been transferred, you must file any premium processing requests, including a copy of your receipt notice with the service center handling your request. However, if your case has been transferred to a service center with a longer than average processing time, USCIS says you will not face a longer wait.

    6. Hire a lawyer

    Many applicants attempt to file their petitions in an effort to save money. However, this increases their chances of being rejected or delayed. The immigration process is not always straightforward and requires an expert to help navigate the various shortcuts, exceptions, and policy changes. A reputable immigration attorney understands the rules and regulations of your case, and they are informed of any updates that could potentially affect your petition.

    Handling your case on your own could lead to errors in paperwork, incomplete documents, or incorrect filings, resulting in unnecessary delays. By hiring a reputable immigration lawyer, you can rest assured you are working with a professional who will implement proven strategies to handle your case quickly and efficiently.

    Requests to expedite an immigration case are often denied, especially during a time of excessive backlogs. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there is a human behind every USCIS decision. To stand out and have a greater chance at approval, your situation needs to be moving and compelling enough to appeal to their emotions and backed by substantial documentation and evidence to support your claim. Remember, the USCIS officer may have heard hundreds of requests from people in similar situations. Of course, it also helps to have a support system of expert immigration lawyers by your side to ensure your reason for a request is sound.

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    3 Ways the USCIS Can Speed up Green Card Processing

    Green card processing times vary from 12-20 months or even longer.

    As we have recently covered, green card wait times can be unpredictable. If you file an I-485 application and have your case transferred to a certain service center, you could be waiting up to a year or longer for a decision, and this does not include time factored into RFEs issued by the USCIS. In short, the I-485 adjustment of status process can be painfully long. As a result, immigrants live in the United States in a sort of limbo status, with limited protections and often dependent on spouses or other family members.

    This is why it is important for the USCIS to keep reforming immigration, and also to seek ways to speed up the green card process. If the USCIS were to address several issues with applications and forms, it could offer ways to speed up individual cases, and eventually get rid of some of the current backlog. This blog will be dedicated to better understanding how the USCIS might be able to speed up green card processing, if they take serious consideration to a number of issues.

    1. Create a shorter I-485 application

    The Cato Institute cites that prior to the Trump changes in immigration, I-485 adjudication times averaged 6.8 months in FY 2016.[1] If that were the current rate, applicants would certainly be ecstatic. However, currently the USCIS is using an I-485 application that is 18 pages long, and includes many questions that might not even be relevant for most green card applicants. For example, if you download the I-485 application and scroll to Part 8-General Grounds of Inadmissibility, there are 80 questions that need to be answered in relation to U.S. security objectives, crimes, and much more. Surely this section can be shortened.

    If the USCIS does end up creating or reverting back to an older application, it could shave off time adjudicating each application, and ultimately help create efficiency when it comes to green card wait times.

    2. Stop Issuing RFEs based on Blank Space.

    Across many different types of USCIS applications, the agency can issue an RFE to applicants if they leave a space blank or forget to fill in additional information (this could be the case for applicants who list the previous four addresses they have lived at, but forget to include the fifth in the “Additional Information” section). Because there is no electronic filing system for the I-485 application, this means that the USCIS needs to be manually file each case that is issued an RFE based on blank space. This ends up causing a huge delay in application processing each fiscal year.

    3. Issue Work Permits to Those Who Have Married U.S. Citizens

    While it is a standard procedure to have to apply for working authorization in the U.S., the fact of the matter is that having to adjudicate work permit applications for pending I-485 applicants represents an opportunity cost. The time an officer spends approving a work permit for a green card applicant is time wasted to finish adjudicating the original green card application. In other words, there should be a more efficient system of issuing work permits to those who need them, that way the USCIS can dedicate more time toward the existing I-485 applications in their possession.

    Alternatively, the USCIS could issue a temporary permit to those who have successfully filed a green card (I-485 application). This would help create efficiency instead of having to go back to the original documentation to cross check someone’s identity.

    4. Re-think Interviews for Routine Cases

    Finally, the USCIS should re-think, or perhaps schedule online conferences for routine cases. The time it takes to send a U.S. based applicant an invitation to appear at a field office via the USPS, to actually seeing the applicant, is usually a 1-2 month process (sometimes longer). This process could be sped up by sending applicants an email confirmation for an invitation into a secure Zoom or Skype session.

    Likewise, the USCIS should still schedule in-person interviews, but reserve these interviews for marriage green card applicants, or for cases where an officer deems it is necessary to see the applicant in-person. Allocating more cases to the online realm, or waiving the interview, could lead to faster processing.

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